March 19, 2014

Tanzi reintroduces bill aimed at reducing school suspensions

Linda Borg, Providence Journal
   Flanked by members of the NAACP and Youth Pride, Rep. Teresa Tanzi reintroduced a bill aimed at reducing the number of suspensions in public schools and addressing the substantial disparities in suspension rates between white and minority students.
Rep. Tanzi speaks at State House press conference with members
of Public Defenders office, NAACP, Youth Pride, DARE, ACLU
   Last week, the Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union released a study that found that public schools continue to suspend minority students at rates disproportionately higher than their white peers.
   Tanzi, D-South Kingstown, said that in Rhode Island, more than 60 percent of suspensions are imposed for minor infractions. Legislation approved in 2012 made it illegal to suspend students for attendance issues and since then, suspensions have plummeted from nearly 22,000 in 2011-2012 to almost 16,000 during the prior school year.
   Tanzi’s bill would reserve out-of-school suspensions for those behaviors where a student poses a risk of physical harm or serious disruption to other students that cannot be controlled otherwise.
   At Tuesday’s news conference, deputy public defender Mathew Toro said once a student is caught up in the juvenile justice system, it’s hard for him or her to get out.
   Elana Rosenberg, program coordinator for Youth Pride, a gay-rights group, said gay students are sometimes suspended for expressing their gender identity. The suspensions often lead to the student being “outed” to his or her family, she said. Almost one-third of those youth are rejected by their parents.